Hello! Annie here, and I want to introduce a lovely friend of mine- author and mother, Desiree Thompson. Desiree and I share a desire to love others well, and one of the ways we both do that is through advocacy and truth telling. Most of the women in the cooperative in Rwanda whom I work with are HIV positive and live with all the stigma that is very common in both Rwanda and the US. I've wanted The Sparrow Studio to share a blog post for a long time to increase awareness of the facts and myths surrounding HIV and to do our part to reduce stigma and help each other love better. Please read Desiree's beautiful and vital story (below). And after that, stick around for a giveaway of things for you to keep and share.
by Desiree Thompson
It was a rainy spring day and I was driving downtown to see my bestie. She was in the area for a conference and although we would see each other in less than 25 minutes, we were chatting and catching up, before hanging out. She was talking about a book that she had just finished for her adoption education, a requirement from our state. Since I was just starting the process she had a ton of recommendations but this one “was a must.”
What I remember from that conversation was not just the book, There is No Me without You by Melissa Faye Greene, but what she said afterwards. Mandie told me that she felt God was leading her to adopt a child with HIV. They were already in the process, and the boy they were matched with was not positive; but Mandie felt strongly that God was opening her heart to adopt a positive child in the future. Being her best friend she confided in me, and I was shocked.
How long would a child live with HIV? What would their health be like? Would they always be sick? Could Mandie get sick? ……
These were some questions I thought of right away. Being that my bestie was destined for this path, or so she thought, I started to learn more about HIV. I wanted to be there for Mandie if this was something she and her husband really felt like God wanted them to do. I wanted to be the friend who understood, even though the initial thought scared the crap out of me.
I started researching HIV statistics and looking up stories of those who had adopted positive children. The more I researched, the more I learned; and the more I understood some basic truths about HIV. I learned that:
HIV is spread in three main ways.
1) unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who has HIV or AIDS.
2) mother to child transmission during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding if the mother has HIV or AIDS AND IS NOT on ARVS. (Transmission during this time goes down to less than 2% if the mother is properly taking medication).
3) sharing needles or syringes with someone who has HIV/AIDS.
Fact: You cannot get HIV from any normal living arrangements, such as hugging, kissing, sharing a cup, sharing a toilet, etc.
Fact: People with HIV/AIDS can live a normal lifespan, when on ARVs (medication).
Fact: There is no cure for HIV. The medicines can lower the amount of HIV in a person to an undetectable level but that doesn’t mean they are cured.
In looking for ways to help my friend, God showed me that HIV was not something to be afraid of. He opened my heart to a world I didn’t even know existed and showed me that I could support my friend if she chose this path. I learned that many other families were adopting children with HIV and that it wasn’t something to be feared. In researching this topic to be a friend, God opened my heart to the possibility of doing this myself someday in the FAR future.
A few weeks later, after my husband and I had our home study approved, I saw a little boy on a waiting list. He was waiting because he was HIV positive. Knowing the facts of the disease I started to pray for him and his family, wherever they may be. I started to pray for his family to open their hearts wide and not be afraid.
One night while praying for this little one I asked God, “Why are you not opening up any homes and hearts?” Asking God that question felt like a slap in the face… it really did. Immediately I felt God asking me the same thing. That night my husband and I knew. We were being called to be stretched into the world of adopting a HIV positive child. We were being asked, by our Creator, to enter into a world we had a few weeks earlier never even considered.
It turned out that I was praying for myself during that short period of time. Praying for my heart to be opened further. For my husband's heart. For our families. And friends. I was praying for God to use me.
That was nearly four years ago, but seems like it happened a lifetime ago. Our family has grown so much in that time, both in numbers and knowledge. Over these past few years we have learned even more about HIV. We have learned that stigma surrounding the disease still exists, and is often the worst part. We have learned how to speak up for our family and for others who deal with this chronic disease.
These past four years we have faced a lot of stigma, and each time we ask God why; yet each time we see Him working through us to teach others the facts. Each time stigma happens we see it as an opportunity to share our story. That doesn’t mean I welcome stigma into my life; I don’t. It’s painful. It isn’t something I like to encounter. It hurts. I often get defensive, I rarely say the right things at the right time, I often cry after each time it happens. However, I do see God using me when it happens and for that I am thankful for each opportunity.
If you want to learn more about HIV here are some great websites that have helped our family.
If a friend or a family member has HIV here are some ways you can be supportive.
***Learn the facts about the disease.
***Teach your children that they can be friends with people who have HIV (A Positive Superhero is a great book to help!)
***Be ready to stand up for them when you hear any misconceptions.
***If your friend is newly diagnosed it can be a shock. If they are confiding in you that means they TRUST you. Do not share someone’s status unless they tell you they are open about it.
***Ask them how they are doing with it. Although there are medicines to take, sometimes it takes a while to figure out the right combination. If a certain regime doesn’t work the side effects might take a toll on their body including their mental health.
***Many times people living with HIV can become depressed because of the social stigma. Let your friend know you love them.
***People with HIV have to get their blood tested every few months, maybe take them to this appointment or send them a card when this happens.
This giveaway includes:
-a copy of Desiree's brand new children's book that you can use to educate your children and their friends or to give away to encourage a family you might know struggling with the stigma of HIV
-2 bracelets- one for your child to keep and one to give
-a $25 discount on any purchase from The Sparrow Studio